7 Ways to Let Students LEAD!

 

Of all my passions, nothing holds more meaning to me than empowering students to LEAD! When we allow students to lead, we are more likely to empower them not only in their day-to-day learning but in their LIFE. And in my opinion, that is one of the greatest things, if not THE greatest thing, we can do for the kids we serve.

On this same note, although I could write a post that included 100 ways to let students lead, I wanted to synthesize as much information as I could in 7 easy to remember examples, that are also some of my favorite launchpads for learning:

1.  Start student-led class discussions

What I have found from experience is that student-led class discussions are not an “activity,” it is an experience and a meaningful one at that. Too often, we structure our classrooms so we are the sage on the stage and the sole person who can take and answer questions. Rather than building upon students curiosity, we inadvertently and accidently squash them. I must note that there are important and worthwhile moments for teachers to deliver content and field questions in this manner, but it does not have to be the only way.

Helping students lead discussions is a life-long skill that is crucial to build even at the youngest of ages because it proves to be even more important as the years go on. Rather than being terrified that students will argue with one another or will not know what to do during a student-led discussion, think of it as a learning opportunity that will pay dividends in their future. Show them the way and watch them soar. You will run into obstacles at first with this approach, but stay persistent to see student engagement and overall love for learning rise. This article by

This article by Education Week on student-led discussions, with strategies on how to get started, was written two years ago and still rings true today.

 

2.  Choose student tech experts to teach students & teachers new ways to integrate technology

Whether you start a Student Tech before/after school program, or you choose a few students in your class to be “tech experts,” students LOVE teaching other students new ways to integrate technology into the classroom. It never ceases to amaze me how much students know about technology. I often ask my students to teach me what they are doing and how they are using technology outside of school. We then spin the conversation to determine how we can integrate that technology in a meaningful way for their learning at school, too.

 

3.  Ask students their input on how we can improve school and put that input into ACTION!

Students have so many ideas on how to improve the school culture and day-to-day procedures, but we often forget to ask. Whether you ask them about how to better your lessons or how to improve student behavior during unstructured times, students often are untapped resources. Not only that, but they desperately want to help!

I will never forget, when I asked my former sixth-grade students on how we could improve our classroom climate to help all learners feel apart of our team. They immediately came up with the idea of “Leader Jobs.” Although having leader jobs is not new in the classroom, they wanted to put their own spin on it and to CREATE the jobs that would exist in the classroom, rather than me creating them. Having said that, through this experience, I allowed them to lead and saw students who were more ecstatic to come to school than ever before because they had a PURPOSE. Students designed jobs like “Twitter Expert, Instagram Leader, Inspirational Leader,” and more.

Moral of the story: Ask for their input and then make valiant efforts to do something about their feedback. If we only ask and forget to do, we will lose the trust of our kids.

 

4.  Have students create individualized learning playlists that differentiate learning

Several months ago, I heard this idea of creating individualized learning playlists for kids. Before I even researched how other educators have used this practice, I decided to give it a try myself with a few students first; I wanted the creation process with my students to be as organic as possible.

After students have tried these playlists for a couple of months, I have learned an abundant amount from my students about what they like, what does work, and what has not been beneficial for their learning process. I have a post in the works on this topic, but I wanted to share that I have found HUGE student participation and leadership through students being able to learn and create their way at their own pace.

Until this next post on this is created, check out Jennifer Gonzalez’s blog post on this subject.

 

5.  Try a student-led edcamp

This has to be one of my favorite student-led ideas I have tried this year. Read my blog post here on how to get one started!

 

6.  Embed Genius Hour, Project Based Learning and Makerspaces to gain more hands-on approaches to learning

When students are able to learn LIVE through trying, they are leading their learning. Here are a few experts and resources on these topics to get these ideas started in your classroom or school:

  • Genius Hour
    • Check out Don Wettrick: Author of Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level – He is a guru on all things Genius Hour.
    • Genius Hour Twitter Chat:  chat = 1st Thurs of each month at 6 pm PST/9 pm EST
    • One of the most passionate educators I know who uses Genius Hour in her classroom is Jen Schneider– Connect with her on Twitter; She loves to share ideas and resources.
  • Project Based Learning (PBL)
    • Check out Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, authors of Hacking Project Based Learning: I can honestly say that this book was such a worthwhile read and broke down the thinking and action behind project-based learning, in addition to giving meaningful ways to embed it within your class.
  • Makerspaces
    • You cannot say “Makerspaces” without mentioning the queen of Makerspaces, Laura Fleming. Follow her on Twitter, if you do not already, and check out her book and website on Makerspace learning here.

7. Empower students to show their learning with new and innovative approaches.

Do not be the keeper of all the knowledge, be the caretaker of student talent. Ask students to show their learning in ways that you have not even thought of- Allow them to be the designers, too.

Kara’s Tweetable: When we help students live outside the box in their thinking, they will also gain outside of the box success with their learning as a result.

Take risks with your kids- You will learn abundantly more than you would have ever before if you simply played it safe.

 

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Give Your Love, Watch Someone Grow

 Image credit: QuoteFancy

 

My Mom, myself, my brother & my Dad at my Masters Graduation Ceremony for Educational Administration last year

 

Throughout my life, and to this day, my Mom has always been my foundation of what love is. She embodies love. She breathes love. She IS love.

She is that one person in my life that knows and understands me better than anyone else.

She has:

-Always known exactly what to say at just at the right time

-Supported me through every decision I have made

-Loved me unconditionally

-Taught me how to trust my heart and intuition above all else

When I wanted to become an educator years ago, most people tried to talk me out of it due to a multitude of reasons. Some believed that I would be wasting my intelligence and potential with being an educator. But, not my mom. My mom was the only one that advised me to follow my heart and to never feel bad for doing so. She saw my undeniable passion for teaching and knew that nothing could replace that fire in my soul- Not money, perception, or the opinions of others.

My mom and the first class I EVER taught. They loved her as much I do; This picture brings me to tears, every single time

 

Her love has shown me how to love. I see how she loves me, my family, her job, and people as a whole. She would give the shirt off her back and all of the money in her bank account to anyone who needed it. Furthermore, she believes that time is the best thing you can offer someone. Only a few people even know that she spends her lunch breaks helping struggling students to read (for no cost) because she wants to make a difference. She has shown me by her example that we do not have to wait to make a difference, WE ARE THE DIFFERENCE.

This website, this blog, my career, and who I am today would not even exist if it were not for my Mom. She has always believed in me more than I believed in myself. In her eyes, I could do it all. I could conquer any dream, and climb any mountain. Her opinion and belief in me has steered me forward, even when I have not believed in myself.

Each day, my goal is to love students unconditionally like the way my Mom has loved me. Even when I was hard to love, my Mom loved me. Even when I had crazy dreams, my Mom believed in me.

Here is to loving each student, each colleague, each friend, and each person we encounter with the same kind of love that my mom has shown to me.

To my Mom- I owe you the world. I love you. I can only hope and dream to be half the person you are. Thank you.

 

Kara’s Tweetable : “We do not have to wait to make a difference, We are the difference.”

 

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4 Steps to Risk-Taking

Risk-taking is not an art form; It is a conscious choice that we can choose to make. It is also a normal part of the learning process.

Each day we ask our students to take risks in our classrooms. We ask our kids to:

  • Dive into activities that they may or may not be good at
  • Share their ideas and opinions, even when they may be introverted or lack confidence
  • Try something the second we ask them, without hesitation or apprehension

But, when do WE find time to take risks as the teacher, as the adult? 

The most successful educators that I have ever met, who are the best at reaching kids, are masters at taking risks in the classroom every single day. Some days these risks may be mini-risks, while other days they are full-blown, terrifying, and monumental risks.

The other week I earned a free year of ClassCraft premium. One of our brave teachers, Molly, decided to literally jump into ClassCraft with her students one day and allowed HER STUDENTS to take control. Although she watched video tutorials on the process ahead of time, she still trusted students enough to learn and teach her. Since students were already familiar with games that include Warriors, Mages, and Healers, they were able to teach us more than we would have known through our own personal experiences alone. Never underestimate the knowledge that students can bring to the table.

What I have learned is that it is OKAY to be scared, it is just NOT OKAY to not try or give up.

How can you start with risk-taking? Start here:

1. Find your mission

Although taking random risks on a whim can be fun and still have a purpose, it is more meaningful to take a multitude of risks based on a mission you are focused on.  Determine your mission first. Do you want to be more innovative? Take more risks based on that vision. Do you want to improve on your specific teaching strategies in a content area? Focus on taking risks in that specific area. Once you see success and small progress in one area, you are more likely to take bigger risks in the future.

2. Commit to it

Nothing feels worse than saying you will take a risk and then you end up never following through. Just go for it. Commit 110%. I have found personal success by informing others about my risks and goals so they can be my accountability partners and hold me to it.

3. Be patient and persistent

I have a promise for you: You will fail and you will fail again. Change your perception of failure and realize that risk-taking and failure go hand-in-hand; You cannot have one without the other. I also can guarantee you this: Although failure can hit you in the stomach sometimes, failure will always bring new insights, new pathways, and new journeys…we simply have to be able to see the positives right in front of us. Without failure, we would never get better.

4. Share your journey with others

Share your risks, share your adversities, share your successes. Through having others join you on your journey, you can be that role model of risk-taking for someone else. Furthermore, once you open up, others will be more likely to share their journey with you as well.

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17 Midwest Educators to Follow on Twitter

Today, I presented at the Midwest Educational Technology Conference #METC17 where I had the honor to be awarded as a Spotlight Educator. I also had the meaningful experience to present on Engaging Students and Families on Twitter and Instagram and will present again tomorrow on Digital Storytelling with my dear friend Don Goble.

During my Spotlight presentation today, I was brought to tears. I saw current colleagues, former colleagues, personal friends, friends I have networked with on social media, and beyond who attended my session to be there for me. Even my Mom’s fantastic former boss attended my session to cheer me on. While I saw these friendly faces, I was reminded and humbled of how grateful I am to have such a strong support system and network who support me, care about me, and who are always there to lift me up.

Therefore, from inspiration at #METC17, I wanted to share 17 of my friends in the Midwest who you NEED to follow, in no particular order. These are genuine people and educators, inside and out; Learn and grow from them by following them on Twitter.

Click the hyperlink next to the name to go directly to that person’s Twitter profile.
  1. Don Goble – @dgoble2001
  2. Brent Catlett – @catlett1
  3. Sage Arnote- @mrarnote
  4. JP Prezzavento – @jpprezz
  5. Laura Gilchrist – @lauragilchrist4
  6. Julie Smith – @julnilsmith
  7. David Geurin – @davidgeurin
  8. Beth Houf – @bethhouf
  9. Lauren Mertz – @mslaurenmertz
  10. Tina Lauer – @tnalau
  11. Aaron Duff – @education_geek
  12. Christie Scott – @mrsscott503
  13. Mary Kienstra – @beebekienstra
  14. Mindy Southern – @mindysouth
  15. Michelle Dirksen – @mdirksen
  16. Stacey Stubits – @stubits411
  17. Debbie Fucoloro – @debbiefuco

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Finding Your Sense of Clarity

Image Credit: Fourth Revolution

 

Clarity: The quality of clearness.

I explain clarity as the mental sharpness and awakening of knowledge. When you feel clarity, you gain understanding of what you need to do in your life; Clarity is that monumental “life-bulb” moment.

Clarity is essential because without it, we often make decisions that are misguided and wrong for us, or the people around us.

 

But how do you gain clarity, you ask?

The truth is, I do not think you can gain full clarity 100 percent of the time. This is life and life is not perfect. But, there are strategies we can practice to help us become more in tune with who we are and what is best for our inner souls.

Recently, I watched this video from Marie Forleo about Goal-Setting. Within her video, she was able to describe perfectly how I have always felt about following your heart as your guide. One of Marie’s best mantras that she lives by is “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.” No truer words have ever been spoken. Until you put something into action and TRY, you will never have the clarity if you are making the right decision.

I am someone who tends to live inside my head; I constantly have thoughts and different case scenarios running around in my subconscious. Due to this, I sometimes lie awake at night at trying to solve the world’s problems. Funny enough, I have found out that more times than not, if I stop thinking and start DOING, I feel more resolution. I feel abundantly more satisfied. Until you DO, you might as well worry your life away because your mind alone cannot prepare you for life, only your action and experience will.

 

Tips for Gaining Clarity:

  • Dip your foot before diving in

Do you want to have the opportunity to move, to travel, or to try a new role within your building or profession? Ask questions and learn from those who you admire or would like to be more like. Can you shadow that person for a day? Ask questions and put yourself out there for different learning opportunities to give you a varied perspective before you completely dive in and change your life. Disclaimer: Sometimes diving in is perfectly fine, too.

  • Trust your gut

As my Mom always told me- Your inner-self knows more than you ever will; Trust it. When you get that nagging feeling telling you to do something, follow it and listen. Especially if that feeling persists. You gain more regret from NOT trying than you will from trying and then failing.

  • Give yourself grace

Sometimes you will follow that feeling of intuition and you will find out later that you may have regrets. Instead of beating yourself up, think of each opportunity as a chance to learn more and be more. Even wrong turns that you have taken develops your wisdom and self-truth in deeper capacities than what WOULD have occurred if everything went your way. Give yourself grace. Affirm what you learned through the experience and how you are better now because of it. Turn that potential negative into a life-changing moment that you can be proud of.

Kara’s Tweetable:I have found out that more times than not, if I stop thinking and start DOING, I feel more resolution.” – Kara Welty

What are strategies you use to gain clarity? I would love to hear your feedback- Add your tips below.

 

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